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The incredible rise of billionaire Donald Bren, the richest real estate developer in America

The incredible rise of billionaire Donald Bren, the richest real estate developer in America
Finance1 min read

Donald Bren was born in Los Angeles in 1932. His father, a movie producer, and his mother, a patron of the performing arts, divorced when he was 10. His father remarried to an actress and his mother to a well-off industrialist.

Donald Bren was born in Los Angeles in 1932. His father, a movie producer, and his mother, a patron of the performing arts, divorced when he was 10. His father remarried to an actress and his mother to a well-off industrialist.

Sources: Wealth-X, Fortune

Bren and his brother attended Beverly Hills High School and spent their summers working as carpenters for their dad's real estate development business. A key lesson he learned from his father: "When you hold property over the long term, you’re able to create better values and you have something tangible to show for it," Bren told the Los Angeles Times in 2011.

Bren and his brother attended Beverly Hills High School and spent their summers working as carpenters for their dad

Bren earned a partial athletic scholarship to the University of Washington for skiing. He was reportedly a stylish skier and an avid competitor who was set to go to the 1956 Olympics but couldn't participate because of a broken ankle.

Bren earned a partial athletic scholarship to the University of Washington for skiing. He was reportedly a stylish skier and an avid competitor who was set to go to the 1956 Olympics but couldn

Source: Fortune

He earned a degree in business administration and economics from UW in 1955. After graduation he served as an officer in the US Marine Corps for three years, leading reconnaissance teams on the beaches of Camp Pendleton.

He earned a degree in business administration and economics from UW in 1955. After graduation he served as an officer in the US Marine Corps for three years, leading reconnaissance teams on the beaches of Camp Pendleton.

Source: Fortune

In 1958 at the age of 25, Bren took out a $10,000 bank loan to found Bren Company and build his first house on Lido Isle in Newport Beach, California. He built and flipped a succession of homes, riding the wave of Orange County's late 1960s real estate boom.

In 1958 at the age of 25, Bren took out a $10,000 bank loan to found Bren Company and build his first house on Lido Isle in Newport Beach, California. He built and flipped a succession of homes, riding the wave of Orange County

Sources: Wealth-X, Fortune

From 1963 to 1967, Bren was also busy as president of Mission Viejo Company, an Orange County property development firm that designed an 11,000-acre, master-planned community.

From 1963 to 1967, Bren was also busy as president of Mission Viejo Company, an Orange County property development firm that designed an 11,000-acre, master-planned community.

In 1970, International Paper Co. bought Bren Company for $34 million. But just two years later, after a recession and downturn in the real estate market, Bren bought his company back for just $22 million.

In 1970, International Paper Co. bought Bren Company for $34 million. But just two years later, after a recession and downturn in the real estate market, Bren bought his company back for just $22 million.

Source: Fortune, Wealth-X

After living and working in Orange County for nearly two decades, Bren set his sights on the county's largest land development project: Irvine Ranch, a 93,000-acre property that includes nine miles of coastline along the Pacific and accounts for 20% of the county. Founded by James Irvine and two others in 1864, the remote and drought-stricken property was initially part of Mexican and Spanish territory that stretched from the Santa Ana Mountains to the Pacific Coast.

After living and working in Orange County for nearly two decades, Bren set his sights on the county

In 1977, Bren bought Irvine Company, owner of the Irvine Ranch, along with five other stockholders, including the late-James Irvine's great-granddaughter, for $337.4 million. Bren owned a third of the company initially, but in 1983 he bought out several other shareholders and increased his position to 86%. In 1996, Bren became the sole owner, buying out minority shareholders for at least $80 million.

In 1977, Bren bought Irvine Company, owner of the Irvine Ranch, along with five other stockholders, including the late-James Irvine

Over the last two decades, Bren has been in charge of the ranch’s development, including the master planning of some of the wealthiest and most desirable communities in America — including parts of Anaheim, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and the entire city of Irvine.

Over the last two decades, Bren has been in charge of the ranch’s development, including the master planning of some of the wealthiest and most desirable communities in America — including parts of Anaheim, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and the entire city of Irvine.

The 250,000-population city of Irvine — often referred to as the epicenter of Orange County — typifies the ranch's hallmark “live, work, and play” development vision. Irvine is home to residential villages, shopping centers, parks, top-ranked schools, and headquarters for more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies.

The 250,000-population city of Irvine — often referred to as the epicenter of Orange County — typifies the ranch

"Over the years, Bren has sculpted the look of modern suburbia in California and, in the process, become one of the country's largest and most-copied developers of planned communities," the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2011.

"Over the years, Bren has sculpted the look of modern suburbia in California and, in the process, become one of the country

The Irvine Company has also donated 57,000 acres of ranch's land — more than half of the original total — to be permanently preserved. Most of it has held National Natural Landmark status since 2006.

The Irvine Company has also donated 57,000 acres of ranch

The Irvine Company, which accounts for almost all of Bren's $17 billion net worth, today holds more than 110 million square feet of property, including "500 office buildings, 41 retail centers, 130 apartment communities, three hotels, five marinas, and three golf clubs."

The Irvine Company, which accounts for almost all of Bren

Though primarily focused in Orange County, the company also owns properties in West Los Angeles, San Diego, and Silicon Valley. Outside of California, Irvine Company owns a 97.3% stake in New York City's 58-story MetLife building, worth nearly $3 billion. And in 2014, the company purchased a 60-story skyscraper in Chicago for $850 million.

Though primarily focused in Orange County, the company also owns properties in West Los Angeles, San Diego, and Silicon Valley. Outside of California, Irvine Company owns a 97.3% stake in New York City

Source: Bloomberg

Bren's personal life has been more bumpy than his real estate career. He has five children from three marriages and one courtship. The billionaire went to trial in 2010 after his ex-girlfriend and their two children — then 18 and 22 — sued Bren seeking $130 million in damages from alleged unpaid child support. Bren, who had already paid $9 million in support over the years, won the case.

Bren

Interestingly enough, not much is known about the personal residences of one of the most prolific real estate developers of our time. It's been reported that Bren, his third wife Brigitte, and their son, live on Newport Beach's Harbor Island, an exclusive waterfront community made up of multimillion-dollar homes.

Interestingly enough, not much is known about the personal residences of one of the most prolific real estate developers of our time. It

Most of Bren's public persona revolves around his philanthropic endeavors, and his lifetime giving exceeds $1.3 billion. In 2010, he was given the first “Donald Bren Legacy of Giving Award” — an award started by the backers of Orange County's National Philanthropy Day. "For me, philanthropy has always been about simply creating new community partnerships, partnerships that will be valued forever," Bren said.

Most of Bren

Bren regularly contributes to K-12 schools and the University of California system as well as research, the arts, and conservation. "I believe the greatest investment we can make is in the education of our children," said Bren. According to his website, the Donald Bren Foundation has donated $200 million to educational causes.

Bren regularly contributes to K-12 schools and the University of California system as well as research, the arts, and conservation. "I believe the greatest investment we can make is in the education of our children," said Bren. According to his website, the Donald Bren Foundation has donated $200 million to educational causes.

Source: UCI

Bren's enduring legacy, however, will continue to be his real estate empire and his role in shaping some of the most coveted communities in America. "In terms of great visionaries who have influenced Southern California, I'd put him up there with Walt Disney," Rick Caruso, a former member of the Irvine Company board, said in 2010.

Bren
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